Due Diligence

James Beard's Alison Tozzi Liu came to Jackson Heights for the food, and stayed for the community

Ken Goodman (Tozzi Liu)/Allt om New York

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The James Beard Foundation is probably best known for its annual awards ceremony (known as the Oscars of the food world), but nearly every night of the year, the James Beard house in the village hosts dinners featuring renowned chefs from all over the world (upcoming events include Sizzlin' Texas 'Cue and Return to Venice).

We caught up with Alison Tozzi Liu, the James Beard Foundation's editorial director (and graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education), to find out about her chosen Queens neighborhood, her tiny kitchen, and her love of classic NYC restaurants.

What neighborhood do you live in? 

Jackson Heights, Queens. 

Is this your dream neighborhood or is there someplace else in NYC you’d prefer to settle in? 

I love our neighborhood. I've lived in a lot of NYC neighborhoods, and I never thought I'd leave Brooklyn, but Jackson Heights is by far my favorite neighborhood. In my dreams, I might move a few blocks north into one of the beautiful single-family homes that line 85th and 86th Streets. (Sigh!)

Do you own or rent? 

 We own. 

How’d you find it? 

My husband and I were renting in Brooklyn with our newborn (now nine years old) son and wanted to move to a bigger apartment. We hadn't considered buying because everything in Brooklyn was expensive and we hadn't thought about leaving the borough. We had been to Jackson Heights (mostly to eat), but when we visited friends a few blocks away from the subway, we fell in love with the neighborhood and were surprised to find that we could actually afford to buy a place there. We moved in a few months later. 

What’s the one thing you love the most about it? 

The sense of community among our neighbors is unlike anything I've experienced living anywhere else in NYC. The buildings of our co-op make up a city block in the neighborhood's historic district, and in the center is a courtyard garden where we spend a lot of time with kids running around. There's also a really terrific greenmarket across the street on Sundays.

If there’s one thing you could change about your apartment, what would it be? 

The kitchen is super tiny. My husband is a chef and I cook a lot. We have two kids and we have our neighbors over all the time for dinner. We make it work, but if I could double the size of the kitchen that would be a game-changer.  

In three words, describe the first apartment you've ever lived in.

I'm torn between “washer/dryer in bathroom” and “large south-facing windows” (I didn't know how good I had it!).

Do you dream of old New York or prefer the current version? 

I love old New York, especially the restaurants that are still around, like Keens Steakhouse, Delmonico's, Barney Greengrass—I could go on.

Tell us about the favorite apartment you’ve ever had. 

It was a third-floor walk-up in a brownstone in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. It was super cheap and the first apartment I lived in by myself without roommates. It was coming apart at the seams (literally—the stairs to come up to the apartment were pulling away from the wall), but I loved that place. 

And the worst? 

It was a third-floor walk-up in Boerum Hill...

Name one NYC service you couldn’t live without. 

I just love that everything is open late. When I travel to other cities this is what I miss most.

What's your favorite spot in the city? 

This changes a lot but lately it's Grand Central Oyster Bar. I love sitting at the counters at lunch time or meeting friends there for drinks and oysters after work. GCOB is a James Beard America's Classic Award winner because the food and atmosphere and the history are all just really special. It's also convenient whether coming from, or going to, Queens.

Which would you rather: Brooklyn brownstone or a penthouse in a shiny, new condo? 

Brooklyn Brownstone. But in Queens. 

If you could live elsewhere, where would it be? 

My husband is from Hawaii and his whole family lives there. Obviously it's an amazingly beautiful place, but there are a lot of draws there for us: Our kids have cousins their age, it's a less hectic pace, and well, it's Hawaii, it has a lot going for it. We visit as often as we can, and always check in with each other about whether it's time to move there. It hasn't been time yet, but maybe someday. 

Any advice for a recent New York transplant? 

Explore your neighborhood, eat at the neighborhood spots, shop at your neighborhood stores, but also be sure to hop on the subway and check out other areas, like the Rockaway Beach in the summer.